Operation Troop Appreciation

        It began nearly 15 years ago when a generous woman decided to lend her support to the military.  Kristen Holloway embarked on a personal project to provide Under Armour T-shirts for a local Pennsylvania National Guard platoon of 38 soldiers deployed in Iraq in March 2004.

       The response from the soldiers who were helped by the project was overwhelming.  Numerous friends and families lent their support with this initiative as well – and it ended up being the foundation of Operation Troop Appreciation (OTA).  A few short months later, in July 2004, OTA was officially established as a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation with federal 501 9c) (3) tax-exempt status and grew into a national organization.

       This program now provides gifts that help veterans and their families when moving into a new home.  OTA helps defray the costs of setting up a new residence with their “Welcome Home” program.    The program provides them with a good bed and mattress, and essential household items to give them the best possible environment in which to live. OTA also assists the vets with the transition into civilian life.

      The support is critical for these military personnel.  According to the National Coalition for Homeless veterans: young men (ages 18-34) who served post 9/11 have an unemployment rate of 29.1 percent compared to 17.6 percent for non-veterans.  The 1.4 million veterans in poverty have the highest chance of experiencing homelessness of any group.  OTA works in conjunction with the VA Healthcare for Homeless Veterans program and the Veterans Leadership Program. 

       Another way that OTA helps support the military is through their active Duty “Wish-list” program.  They work with military units, squads and battalions to find out what the troops’ needs are during their deployment.  They establish a point of contact; items are shipped to them and then distributed among the soldiers.  In addition to receiving the much-needed items, they are also given letters of gratitude for their service.  It is a real morale booster for the troops.

       Operation Troop Appreciation is supported by several sports teams – such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Penguin’s Foundation and Community College of Allegheny County’s hockey team.

       On May 31, 2017, Holloway retired from OTA and turned the reins over to Monica Orluk, who currently serves as the organization’s CEO.  Thanks to the generosity of so many, over 171,000 members of the military community have benefitted from Operation Troop Appreciation.  For more information on how you can donate or assist, visit operationtroopappreciation.org.

By Paula Green

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